A remarkable coincidence of the Civil War was the Union victory at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863 to stop Gen. Lee’s invasion of the North, and Gen. U.S. Grant’s total victory at Vicksburg the next day. Grant’s relentless campaign in the West got Lincoln’s attention and resulted in his promotion to command the whole Army. The Confederate Army’s control of Vicksburg on a high, strategic overlook allowed them to control traffic on the Mississippi River. The image below shows Vicksburg view of a giant U-shaped bend in the river. This year’s flooding has resulted in the river overflowing the center of the bend.
Grant’s first assaults in May were brutal but unsuccessful. His army surrounded the city, and began a relentless 40 day siege. Years after the battle, veterans returned to the battlefield and provided detailed descriptions of locations, encampments and battles. Today, the peaceful landscape is dotted with memorials and with blue signs detailing Union positions and maneuvers and red signs for the Confederate troops. A huge portion of the Union Army was from Illinois, and lead miners from the state contributed to one of the most dramatic and brutal events of the war.
To attempt to break through the confederate defense, the miners tunneled under the fortification and filled it with over a ton of gunpowder. The explosion blew open a huge crater that Union troops stormed into. However, they were trapped by Confederate soldiers firing down into the crater. The miners dug a new mine, but the surrender on Independence Day made that assault unnecessary.
One of the more colorful characters from Illinois commanded an artillery unit in the siege. John Wesley Powell studied at the Illinois Institute, which would later become Wheaton College. As an abolitionist expecting a war, he studied military science and engineering, and enlisted as a private when the war began. He was quickly promoted to captain and would be a lieutenant colonel before the war was over. In the Battle of Shiloh, he lost his right arm, but returned to fight in Vicksburg. After the war, he was a major explorer of the Rocky Mountain region, and despite the loss of his arm completed the first run of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in 1869 on a wooden boat. He did the run again in two years. After creating the Museum of Anthropology at Illinois State University, he became director of Ethnology at the Smithsonian until his death in 1902.
The centennial of the Civil War was being commemorated when I started school. I remember the news of an exciting discovery of a sunken ironclad ship in the Mississippi. The U.S.S. Cairo was named after the Illinois city on the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. It was the first ship sunk by a torpedo and was buried in the Yazoo RIver mud north of Vicksburg. After discovery, it was raised and preserved. the museum has an incredible collection of the artifacts that were found.
The Union victory cut off Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas from the rest of the Confederacy and crippled the South’s communication and transportation.